On this day in 1752, future Patriot Gouverneur Morris is born to the wealthy Morris family of New York.
Gouverneur Morris began his political activities in support of the Patriot cause as a representative to New York’s Provincial Congress beginning in 1775, seven years after his graduation from King’s College (now Columbia University).
An early supporter of independence, Morris began to shape the new national government in 1781, when he assumed the post of assistant superintendent of finance for the Confederation. In that capacity, Morris worked with Superintendent Robert Morris (no relation) to urge an expansion of federal powers and proposed that the new nation adopt a new decimal currency modeled on the Spanish dollar. The two men urged Congress to create the Bank of North America, which would allow them to issue new money.
Morris’ passion for a strong federal government found frequent voice during the Constitutional Convention of 1787, at which he represented Pennsylvania. Morris supported Madison’s original proposal that Congress should have the power to veto state laws, was in favor of life terms for senators, whom he thought should be required to have large landholdings in order to serve, and was against the protection of slavery by the federal government. He was also charged by the Convention with the drafting of the final document.
Morris served as the American minister plenipotentiary, or ambassador, to France from 1792 until his recall in 1794 for failing to support the bloody, and in his opinion, ill-conceived revolution. While in France, he observed the Reign of Terror and attempted to protect Louis XVI and his family from angry mob violence.
Morris served as a senator from New York from 1800 to 1803, completing the term of James Watson, who had resigned to accept a presidential naval appointment. Allying with the Federalists in their opposition to the War of 1812, Morris–the same man who once argued for a strong federal union–suggested that New England and New York secede from the United States in protest.